The Royals are now 15-7 in the month of September, and you have to be a Royals fan to appreciate the magnitude of that. From 1999 through 2008, a span of 10 years, the Royals have had a grand total of nine winning months (counting March as April and October as September). Here, let’s just run all of them:
May 2000: 14-12
August 2000: 15-14
April 2003: 16-7 (+ 1-0 in March)
June 2003: 15-12
July 2003: 15-11
June 2007: 15-12
July 2007: 13-12
June 2008: 16-11
September 2008: 15-7
When the Royals won 16 games in June, who knew it was for just the second time this decade? With just two wins in their last four games – and Meche and Greinke both get one more start each – the Royals will have won 17 games in a calendar month for the first time since August, 1995. How long ago was that? The Royals got a huge spark that month from the major league debut of Johnny Damon.
So it’s been a good month. Good enough that if they win three of their last four games, they’ll meet my projection of 75 wins for the year. Good enough that the Royals have a real shot of finishing out of last place if they beat the Tigers tomorrow. And good enough that we may need to re-evaluate some of the players who have been key to this hot stretch.
I’ve already discussed Shealy, so let’s take a look at some of the other performances this month (numbers not including today’s game):
- DeJesus has hit .395/.440/.580 this month, and .307/.365/.453 overall. Barring a late collapse he’s almost sure to hit .300 for the first time, which is nice, but overall this doesn’t change the calculus on him too much. He’s a nice player and a valuable asset, but I can’t help but think he’d be more valuable to another team with a gaping hole in centerfield (Jon Heyman reports the Yankees are interested). The trick is that the Royals need to focus on acquiring offense this winter, so unless they can trade DeJesus for a masher in one of the corners (Corey Hart, maybe?) or a catcher (Jon Daniels, please pick up the white courtesy phone), it’s unlikely that trading DeJesus is going to improve the team, at least in the short term. Maybe Moore will surprise us.
- Jose Guillen (.380/.430/.557 in September, .267/.304/.446 overall) is back on the upward slope of the sine curve. You can break Guillen’s season down into four parts:
1) Fat slob out of spring training, 3/31 – 5/5: .165/.198/.306
2) In shape, 5/6 – 6/23: .380/.391/.659
3) Hurt but refuses to come out of the lineup, 6/24 – 8/23: .170/.234/.257
4) In shape, 8/24 – today: .352/.398/.552
That’s a streaky player. And streakiness is, on the whole, a good thing if it means that you can harness the good streaks and minimize the bad ones. We know that Guillen, when healthy and motivated, can still be a force in the middle of the lineup. If the Royals can keep him healthy and motivated for 162 games next season, he’ll have a great year, and Trey Hillman will deserve to be Manager of the Year, because no manager has managed to figure out how to do that yet.
The Royals are stuck with him for next year, so Hillman needs to figure out how to handle his prima donna. If Guillen shows up overweight next spring, we’ll know we’re in for another long season. “So-and-so is in the best shape of his career!” stories abound in February. If so-and-so happens to be Jose Guillen, it might actually mean something.
- Mark Teahen (.329/.354/.532, .256/.314/.405) continues to be a tease. Just when we all wrote him off, now he’s back to tantalize us with dreams of 2006 again. And it happens to coincide with his sort-of-return to third base. I believe it’s coincidence. For one thing, he actually hasn’t hit that well when playing third base; his numbers this year are .254/.280/.423 with three homers in 19 games. (He was playing right field in his two-homer game.) And it’s the rare player who definitively hits better playing one position over another – particularly while playing the more demanding defensive position. (The only example I can think of is Frank Thomas, who typically hit much better when playing first base than when used as a DH.)
Should we be worried about the possibility that Teahen plays third base next year? Absolutely, if only because it means that Alex Gordon might move to first base. (And you all thought I was crazy for suggesting that Gordon’s days at third were numbered.) If Gordon moves to first base next year, then Moore and Hillman deserve to be fired. Preferably from a cannon.
I think (hope?) that Teahen’s play at third base has served two purposes: to convince the Royals that he can play the position if need be, and to convince other teams that he can play the position if need be. Teahen’s combination of defensive versatility, broad (if not deep) offensive skills, and relatively young age still make him a valuable commodity. Few players can handle all four corner positions and hit like Teahen, and Teahen even did a decent job of handling center field a few times last season. If Moore can use this hot stretch to market him as a third baseman, great. If he’s playing third base for the Royals on Opening Day, either Gordon’s hurt or someone in the front office will be.
- Callaspo (.315/.346/.438, .313/.368/.383) has done what he’s done all year, although in fairness if you go back to August 23rd (when he returned from the Drunken List) he’s hit an impressive .337, with just four strikeouts in 101 at-bats. Callaspo needs to hit .300 to have value, because he has no power – he has yet to hit a homer in almost 400 major league at-bats – and while he has tremendous bat control, he doesn’t have great patience at the plate. He’s walked 18 times in 201 at-bats this year, 31 in 387 in his career, a rate that is consistent with his minor league record. If he hits .300 he can muster a .350 OBP and have value; if he hits .270 he’s a utility player who can’t handle shortstop, which is useless.
He’s still just 25, and he’s shown enough this year that the Royals ought to leave well enough alone and let him be the starting second baseman next year. I’d go even further, and lead him off. His lack of power won’t be a problem, it will encourage him to take pitches and get on base, and you can’t hit into a double play leading off an inning. (As a contact hitter with no power and no speed, Callaspo is a huge DP threat.)
- Esteban German (.316/.350/.421, .251/.306/.346). German really hasn’t had much to do with the September surge; I just wanted to point out that his horrendous start to the season obscures the fact that he’s played at a 2006-07 level for the last three months. He was sparingly used for the first three months and started the season 10-for-66 with just four walks. Since June 29th, in a lot more playing time (145 at-bats), he’s hit .297/.354/.421. He may not be the Esteban German that was arguably the best utility player in baseball in 2006, but he still has value. There are a lot of things the Royals can do with him this winter – simply releasing him should not be one of those options.
- Alex Gordon (.296/.367/.566, .257/.350/.427) also homered and singled tonight, giving him hits in all eight games since he’s returned. It’s a small sample size, but I continue to hold fast to my belief that he’s about to take a big step forward, and he’s done nothing to make me question my faith in him this month.
- Kila Ka’aihue (.278/.350/.444) has just 20 plate appearances, which include four singles, two walks, just one strikeout, and one very impressive homer. I’m only mentioning him here so I can link to it. It’s just one swing, and I am not a scout, but man…that’s a beautiful sight. Gavin Floyd is prone to the homer because his fastball is straight, but he has pretty good velocity, and that pitch was high and a little outside – you need some serious bat speed to yank that pitch into the right field bleachers. I feel a man-crush coming on.
Pitchers to follow.